The familiar burden of moving house and settling in is a ritual painfully experienced at the best of times. Celine Sciamma’s TOMBOY enacts this right of passage with the added hardship that new boy Michael, is actually a girl. Famed for her cult classic Water Lilies, Sciamma beautifully depicts another idyllic French journey into sexual confusion.
From seeing a truly wholesome family happiest in each other’s company, we suspect nothing as surprising as the shock revelation of Michael (Zoe Heran) and his true feminine form. Complete acceptance of her boyish nature is a wonderful sight; the rejection of inherent femininity seems to create a child indifferent to any other.
Life within the new neighbourhood however is inevitably the spark to riff this innocent deception. Introducing herself as Michael, Laure quickly, if not reluctantly, befriends Lisa along with the male dominated rabble of kids wasting away the summer. Learning to spit, play football and protecting his sister implore a sense of universality to the endearing Michael, demanding our acceptance of him as a person irrelevant of gender.
Though as Michael’s deception becomes more powerful, with the increasing love interest of Lisa and the looming threat of his secret becoming known, the joy of the pretence subsides and Michael’s unhappiness of being is all we see. Despite the makeshift playdoh penis and a rapidly affectionate Lisa, Michael comes to realize he is no happier as a pretend boy than the pretend girl he once was.
Through a traumatic outing by his mother followed by a more so horrifying encounter with his friends, once again there is a somber child lost in gender limbo. Laure’s brief experience as Michael comes to a tragic end, but the relief and freedom this creates is possibly the most sincere experience we come to enjoy. Continuously accepting Lisa asks the simple question, who are you? To which the startlingly jubilant reply is, Laure.
This prepubescent exploration of a seemingly mature issue avoids any detour into graphic gender dysmorphia, keeping the point simple and heartwarmingly affective. Laure or Michael, the name or associated gender is irrelevant, we know only a person, and are delighted to do so.